Baby Boomers - Trends in the Gig Economy
In 2017, Baby Boomers accounted for 30 percent of all participants in the American gig economy, and they have been identified as the generation most likely to choose to become freelancers in the United States. While the primary reason Baby Boomers participate in the gig economy is to earn extra income, other reasons frequently cited include remaining active and productive, having flexibility in workplace arrangements, and receiving recognition for their skills. Challenges to participation in the gig economy include age discrimination, difficulties associated with transitioning away from a traditional job, and an overall lack of workplace camaraderie and socialization opportunities. To attract Baby Boomers to the gig economy, there are trends towards targeting highly skilled Baby Boomers on freelancing talent platforms and highlighting the unique employment benefits offered that are most important to them.
Participation in the gig economy
In order to identify trends around Baby Boomers' participation in the gig economy in the United States, my colleagues and I first made two distinctions. First, we determined that "Baby Boomers" are a group of people born between 1946 and 1964, although there is some indication that Baby Boomers also identify themselves as "middle-aged millennials." Second, our findings revealed that terms such as "gig economy," "freelancing," and "independent contracting" are used interchangeably in the literature, so all of these terms will be referenced in this project.
Baby Boomers are a significant component of the American workforce and it is estimated that there will be 13 million Baby Boomers working in the United States in some capacity by 2024. In 2017, Baby Boomers accounted for 30 percent of all participants in the American gig economy, and it is estimated that 25 percent of all gig work in the United States is currently performed by Baby Boomers. It is believed that their high rate participation in the gig economy compared to other generations is the result of two factors. First, it is estimated that 67 percent of American workers consider themselves "tapped out" with respect to productivity and growth, and as a result, these workers are less likely to pursue freelancing. Second, Baby Boomers are uniquely situated to participate in the gig economy because they want to reduce their overall work commitments, but they do not want to exit the workforce entirely. As a result, Baby Boomers have been identified as the generation most likely to choose to participate in the gig economy.
MOTIVATIONS AND ATTITUDES
There are currently two versions of the "American dream" for workers in the United States. The more traditional concept of the American dream includes going to college, owning a home, and retiring from the workforce after a lengthy career. However, a new concept of the American dream has emerged, equating success with opportunities for self-development and pursuing personal passions later in life. This latter version of the American dream has been embraced by Baby Boomers, who have discovered that participating in the gig economy allows them to pursue four key goals.
First, Baby Boomers want to remain active, and they often find early in retirement that they have "too much time on [their] hands." Additionally, having worked throughout their lives, they have obtained a variety of useful skills that are increasingly in demand in the gig economy. Baby Boomers want to continue to be productive and contribute to the workforce, even if they are reducing their overall working hours. Ironically, Baby Boomers have been participating in the informal gig economy for so long that they may not self-identify as freelancers. It has been noted that in many cases, Baby Boomers "are getting gigs on their own reputation and years of business development." While many Baby Boomers capitalize on skills they have already learned, there is also a trend towards Baby Boomers participating in the gig economy as a means to pursue a second or third new career.
Second, Baby Boomers value the flexibility that the gig economy offers. Freelancing provides the opportunity to earn supplemental income while offering Baby Boomers the flexibility to pursue personal interests and hobbies. It has been noted that "for Baby Boomers who want the flexibility to travel, tend to family obligations, or take time off for other reasons as needed, traditional employment may not fit the bill." At least 40 percent of Baby Boomers have indicated that flexibility is a key advantage to participating in the gig economy. Additionally, Baby Boomers have a more comprehensive concept of employment flexibility than many traditional workers. Baby Boomers recognize that by participating in the gig economy, they can control their overall working hours, the type of work they perform, and for whom they choose to work. For many Baby Boomers, this sense of control over their work is more important than job security.
Third, as Baby Boomers increasingly express fears about outliving their retirement savings or living beyond their means, freelance opportunities allow them to meet their financial needs while still pursuing other personal interests. In some cases, they choose to freelance as a means to supplement their savings while they are young and healthy enough to earn extra money. In other cases, they elect to participate in the gig economy after they have been laid off from a job, or when their financial needs unexpectedly change after retirement. Financial considerations remain the most popular reason for Baby Boomers to participate in the gig economy.
Finally, even if they are shifting their long-term goals towards retirement from the workforce, Baby Boomers still desire recognition for their skills. In many cases, they have developed unique skills over the course of their careers that are increasingly in demand in the gig economy. For example, it is not unusual for a corporate executive to retire from a long-term career in business and become a freelance consultant. In fact, Baby Boomers participating in the gig economy are more skilled and better compensated than their younger colleagues, and they are more satisfied with their freelance positions because they are choosing to perform work that they enjoy. In some cases, performing freelance work simply gives Baby Boomers a sense of purpose that they would otherwise lack in retirement.
CHALLENGES IN THE GIG ECONOMY
Despite being well-suited to the type of employment opportunities offered by the gig economy, Baby Boomers face some unique challenges. First, despite being the generation most likely to pursue freelancing, Baby Boomers often experience age discrimination in the gig economy. At least 64 percent of Baby Boomers reported that they have experienced or witnessed age discrimination in the freelancing market. This discrimination takes two forms. Younger candidates who are believed to be willing to commit to a long-term position may be favored over older workers, and there may also be an overall unwillingness among hiring managers to ask young employees to supervise an older colleague. Second, Baby Boomers may experience difficulties transitioning from a traditional 40-hour work week to the gig economy. After a successful career complying with the directives of a supervisor or manager, it may be difficult to set boundaries with clients in order to deliver the work that has been contracted. Finally, Baby Boomers enjoy the opportunities to socialize with colleagues that a traditional workplace affords. Participation as an independent contractor in the gig economy may not provide Baby Boomers with the same workplace camaraderie that they have historically expected and enjoyed.
Targeting baby boomers
As previously discussed, Baby Boomers may have different reasons for participating in the gig economy than younger workers. As a result, there are two key trends to consider when targeting Baby Boomers for freelance employment opportunities. First, while younger generations may view the gig economy as contract work that is solicited exclusively through a freelancing talent platform, Baby Boomers are typically not as active on these platforms as younger workers. However, there is a trend towards developing freelancing platforms to target Baby Boomers specifically. For example, Tengia is a platform that connects small businesses with independent contractors over age 65 with specific skill sets.
Second, Baby Boomers value different employment benefits than younger workers. For example, while company-sponsored health insurance coverage may be critical for younger workers raising families, Baby Boomers are more likely to receive governmental support through programs like Social Security and Medicare. As a result, Baby Boomers will be attracted to opportunities advertised in the gig economy that highlight the aspects of freelancing work that are most important to them. A company interested in contracting with Baby Boomers might highlight flexible workplace arrangements and a supportive workplace culture over a retirement plan.
In summary, Baby Boomers accounted for 30 percent of all participants in the American gig economy in 2017. The most common reason that Baby Boomers participate in the gig economy is to earn extra income, although they also enjoy remaining active and productive, having flexibility in workplace arrangements, and receiving recognition for their skills.